Union Victory in Colorado
Philadelphian Edward W. Wynkoop migrated westward in the late 1850s and became an officer in the First Colorado Regiment early in the Civil War. By 1864 his unit was fighting irate Cheyenne Indians who resisted the constant encroachments of white settlement in their territory. His view of the Indian being less than human was in line with most easterners coming West.
Wynkoop’s superior was Ohioan Colonel John Chivington, a Methodist minister who believe that the Cheyenne would “have to be soundly whipped before they will be quiet.” He instructed now-Major Wynkoop that any Cheyenne found in his vicinity were to be killed outright as that was the only way to deal with them.
Wynkoop came to better understand the Cheyenne leaders after they agreed to peace negotiations as well as release white captives, though Unionist Governor John Evans at Denver agreed with Chivington. Major Wynkoop’s better relations with the Cheyenne was rewarded with his transfer to Fort Reilly, Kansas, ostensibly for not killing enough Indians.
In late November 1864 Col. Chivington, in command of the First and Third Colorado Regiments descended upon the Cheyenne-Arapaho village at Sand Creek which thought it was at peace with the whites. Chivington’s dawn attack butchered about two hundred Cheyenne – two-thirds of them women and children. His troopers later paraded through Denver “with the genitals of the dead dangling from their shirts and hats.”
Wynkoop was soon promoted to lieutenant-colonel and charged with investigating the Sand Creek “battle.” He called the affair an “unprecedented atrocity” in which “women and children were killed and scalped, children shot at their mothers’ breasts, and all the bodies mutilated in the most horrible manner.” Despite the official investigation and Wynkoop’s condemnation of Chivington’s monstrous conduct, the colonel was not charged and allowed to resign and retire from the United States Army.
Col. Chivington’s massacre of helpless Cheyenne only intensified the conflict as the southern Plains once again dripped with blood. Wynkoop continued to arrange peace talks and bring more peaceful relations, but continued postwar white encroachments brought an uneasy peace.
In early 1867 came Gen. Hancock and Custer to threaten the Indians – later came Sheridan, Sherman and Miles on their mission to clear the Plains of Indians.
(Between the Army and the Cheyenne. Louis Kraft. Military History Quarterly, Winter, 2002, pp. 48-53)